Command & critique

Between spells of funeral-related matters this weekend (and lots of time spent with the extended family) I’ve had a fair amount of downtime. This is not the same thing as “sleep time,” unfortunately, and my internal clock is now officially out of sync with every time zone. Like, on the planet. I’d need to reach orbit to feel like I was on proper time; I woke up at 4 a.m. San Francisco time Friday and Saturday, and 4 a.m. Michigan time this morning. I think if I can arrange things right I can actually travel backward in time tomorrow morning and wake up sometime yesterday.

Anyway, I’ve put the downtime to some use; I read through JPod as I traveled Friday and finished up Castlevania Circle of the Moon, finally, more than five years after first buying it. I’m glad I’m done with them both, because now I never ever have to think about them again. I had never gotten past the Zombie Dragons in CotM, and now that I have I think I was better off not knowing the unrelenting crapfest of a game that lurked on the other side. If you like leveling up, CotM is the game for you! Otherwise, uh, stay home.

JPod was even more disappointing, since it had been marketed as a sort of sequel to Microserfs, aka the most important book of the 20th century (outside of The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide, I mean). JPod seems more of a bad imitation than a follow-up, though, since it features the same basic characters under new names (sexually confused coder Bug Barbecue is now sexually overactive coder Cancer Cowboy, the soulless marketing dude who makes a curious connection with the main character is now named Steve instead of Ethan, the aloof she-geek who falls for the main character is named Kaitlin rather than Karla — and so on). Unfortunately, the book has the general setup and breezy style of Microserfs but none of its underlying substance; the characters are wrapped up in ever-more-improbable scenarios and don’t actually change or evolve over the course of the story. I mean, it’s great that it has a chapter that begins with the main character mentioning how a phone call has interrupted his Super Metroid speedrun (1:10, less than 50% items), but the best part of Microserfs was the sense that the writer and his friends were growing up. The JPodders just kind of drift, Seinfeld-style, across a sea of geeky pop culture references, responding to events outside their control instead of taking the initative and making something of themselves. And I can’t decide if I admire or detest the author’s Vonnegut-esque self-insertion/deus ex machina.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that it’s a light brain snack when it could have been a full meal and the main thing I’m taking away from it is that reprinting pi to the 10,000th digit is a good way to pad your page count. Also, I highly endorse Igarashi’s decision to expunge Circle of the Moon from the Castlevania canon, because it is a truckload of poop.

34 thoughts on “Command & critique

  1. Aw. I liked Castlevania Circle of the Moon immensely. It seems as though every time I come to this site, another one of my favorite games is jabbed by Your harsh text.
    All I know is that if Cave Story is next on your “not awesome” list… well nothing will happen really. Nothing worth expending actual thought on, anyways.

  2. Uh, don’t know why I didn’t put my name on that comment. It’s not like I said anything super controversial and had to hide my identity. Heck, while I’m at it, I might as well pick on Castlevania some more (in the safest way possible). Um, Curse of Darkness sucked. It actually made me forget why I enjoyed videogames to begin with.

  3. And now the comment I didn’t put my name on has dissapeared, making the one I just made totally nonsensical. Man, this is not my day.

    Anyway, what I said was that the final form of Dracula in CotM was pretty cool, but that’s about it.

    And is there really such a thing as a Castlevania canon? For the most part, the stories are rudimentary to the point of non-existence. Especially in CotM.

  4. There is a vauge connection between the games, so I guess you’d call it cannon. I only played CotM once a few years back. I recall getting a kick out of it, but it didn’t feel like anything particularly special. It left a better first impression then Harmony of Disonnence did, if nothing else.

  5. So which GBA Castlevania game should I bother with then? Aria of Sorrow? But he looks like a girl and he doesn’t have a whip at first!

  6. You should more than “bother” with AoS. You should play it as often as possible and never EVER look at the other two.
    Although CotM was decent when it first came out, to be honest. It’s just been overshadowed since. (And HoD has sucked, still sucks, and will continue to suck. Avoid.)

  7. Sadly there IS a Castlevania canon, and it consists of pretty much every game except Legends, 64, Legacy of Darkness and CotM — which, not coincidentally, are four terrible games created since Igarashi took up the reins. CotM was stupendously cool back and made a great impression when the GBA was first released, but I was never able to get past those Zombie Dragons due to the crappy screen. Now that I’ve finished the game I realize that the ZD fight is a demarcation point between the fun first half and the horrible second half, which consists of retreading the same territory, fighting palette-swapped bad guys who move too quickly and spam attacks that the ploddingly slow hero is poorly equipped to battle, and leveling the hell up. And the final form of Dracula is terrible. It’s a pretty decent effort for a game that, according to the credits, was made by like three people, but the second half of the game is an abomination. And yes, I like Harmony of Dissonance infinitely more than CotM.

  8. Circle of the Moon was slightly disappointing to me after playing Symphony of the Night, but Harmony of Dissonance was extremely disappointing. To me it seems like a half-baked portable remake of the Playstation game. Aria of Sorrow was the only GBA Castlevania that completely lived up to my expectations. I like it even more than Dawn of Sorrow.

  9. It took me MONTHS to beat the final form of dracula. I could scrape through the entire game without the need to grind levels, but when Dracula can halve my HP in one hit, there’s a problem. Even Simon had it easier with the blasted count in his first NES adventure.

  10. Maybe Coupland is saving his A material for his proposed giant Toronto toboggan hill. He’d better be.

    I know Legends isn’t canon and we all must bend to the will of Iga, but I still think Alucard as Trevor’s father is pretty wicked-ass in its own way … like a soap opera with guns and police dogs.

  11. Circle of the Moon wasn’t that well balanced. Even though on one hand the monsters could hit you for some serious damage, you could evade some of them without breaking a sweat by the time you got the air dash, especially against Dracula.

    And I’ve always felt that the level gaining emphasis of the Metroidvania games, among other things, has reduced the emphasis on skill. Your main character becomes a tank by the end of the game for the most part.

  12. What’s with all the HoD hate? Personally I loved it, sure it’s been completely outclassed by AoD and DoS but it’s still a damn good game.

    I got CotM when it first came out (I was playing it through my High School Graduation) but I never beat it. I think I got about halfway through the game before I hit a seemingly endless hallway filled with Grizzly Bears (mankind’s deadliest enemy) which I just couldn’t finish.

  13. That’s probably the aptly named Eternal Corridor.

    Anyway, CotM is fun for the card mechanics, although they are hard to collect some times.

  14. “Sadly there IS a Castlevania canon, and it consists of pretty much every game except Legends, 64, Legacy of Darkness and CotM — which, not coincidentally, are four terrible games created since Igarashi took up the reins.”

    Legends, yeah. CotM is a good game. 64 was a terrible game (the camera, pedestrian level designs save for the villa, tons of wasted potential in the ideas), but LoD was an above-average game that’s biggest issue were some ill-applied concepts (sun card/moon card and the whole passage of time aspects) and your character controlling like a puppet. It suffers from Mario 64 syndrome–the enemies are *there* but the environment poses a far bigger danger than most of the baddies. It’s aged poorly, but next to nobody who bashes it has played it, and the scores for the game when it was released were fairly positive, hovering in the 70ish range and up. It seemed more like Prince of Persia with vampires, though. It was on par or better than comparable titles of the time, IMO (Tomb Raider). I’ve beat the game with all characters, and any real time invested in it will acclimate you to the controls. For example–switching directions and jumping back in the other direction isn’t really going to happen–but you can back jump. Mario coped with that (slow speed of turning around) with the awesome side flip. However, you back-jumped in LoD, which I found a good use for when trying to decend platforms, and “trigger” trap doors in acid-filled sewers.
    Iga’s 3D games are constant dreck, though, though. LoI was an okay game (the amazing soundtrack and great boss battles make up for its deficiences, IMO). However, while 64 had serious time constraints and both of them suffered from the limitations of game engines of the time, Iga produced Nanobreaker, and Nanobreaker 2: Gothic Edition (Curse of Darkness) in 2004/2005, so what’s his excuse?

    “And yes, I like Harmony of Dissonance infinitely more than CotM.”

    BARF! I wasn’t level-grinding in the later half of CotM. On the contrary, I thought the difficulty was very well balanced until Drac (and even him I beat with little grinding). Although I was virtually always equipped with the cross boomerang.

  15. Yeah, I know you can skip tons of stuff with the air dash, but that seems completely contrary to the Metroidvania style. Blowing past stuff is for speed runs, not exploration-heavy playthroughs. God, and don’t even get me started on the item drops. Hi, Dracula, nice to see you here in the final showdown. I have less than half the cards in the game and have found maybe 20 potions total. But! I have 73 Leather Armors! Those sure will come in handy.

  16. Actually I meant that with the air dash you could avoid enemies very easily with the air dash.

    Though speaking of speed runs and quick exploration, there should be something along the lines of the dash boots from the later 2d Metroid games to reduce the amount of time spent backtracking, IMO another flaw of the Metroidvania games.

  17. Oops. Noticed my redundant usage of “air dash”. And word to the wonky item drops. In any other Metroidvania game you could make some serious coin off of those extra armors.

    About Harmony of Dissonance, I felt that it was rather unchallenging and sort of been there, done that. Not to mention the unbalanced magic book/item system.

  18. “And yes, I like Harmony of Dissonance infinitely more than CotM.” – I was going insane keeping this as a secret! Thank God I’m not the only one! Not that I think HoD is particularly great, but it’s a far better attempt than CotM. I was about to comment on the ridiculously low Card drop rate, until I saw Parish said it before. Damn my late posting!

  19. Murakami would never betray me that way. Or, at least, I don’t think he would… I have no idea what’s going on! Oh God!

  20. I agree that Circle of the Moon is, for a variety of reasons, a subpar Metroidvania game and Castlevania game. Entirely too much leveling required, etc. But I did think the level design was good for the way it injected plenty of oldschool platforming into the nonlinear game architecture. The background and music for the final boss were pretty awesome, too.

  21. Oh, that’s another thing. The game’s original songs are absolutely stellar, but there are only, like, three total. The rest of the soundtrack is comprised of remixes of songs from past games.

  22. I liked both Circle of the Moon and Curse of Darkness.

    Does this make me a bad person? I don’t want the guys at insert credit or The Gamer’s Quarter to make fun of me. I mean, more than they already do for being a Nippon Ichi fanboy, that is.

  23. I still want that Nintendo Player’s Guide, even after all these years.

    …and… huh. I guess that’s where the tendency to call Pit “Kid Icarus” came from…

    Incidently, what determines which CVs are and aren’t canon? I mean, surely they want them all to be canon when they release them, are they just retconned out later? Is there some interview where Iga said “this, this, and this suck, so they’re out?” I’m genuinely curious.

    LBD “Nytetrayn”

  24. It was with the release of Castlevania Chronicles shortly after CotM in 2001 that Igarashi was made the official producer of the entire series. He then declared the four non-canon games as such prior to the release of Harmony of Dissonance in 2002. Evidence can be found at (official series timeline as of HoD) and at (official timeline as of Dawn of Sorrow). The latter page has a helpful translation from Castlevania community contributor KENTAR.

  25. “I liked both Circle of the Moon and Curse of Darkness.

    Does this make me a bad person? I don’t want the guys at insert credit or The Gamer’s Quarter to make fun of me. I mean, more than they already do for being a Nippon Ichi fanboy, that is.”

    That’s just fine. :) You’re not going to be slagged half as much as liking Legacy of Darkness, afterall. I was incredibly let down by Curse (considering the game it was supposed to be a sequel to is so inspired, the fact that it was built on a tweaked nanobreaker engine, addressed almost none of Lament’s flaws, and actually was lazier in a lot of ways). I can accept CV as a lot of things, but a dungeon-crawler I’m not terribly fond of. It still has awesome music and some great boss fights (St. Germaine especially), but it’s a step backwards in a lot of ways (camera, mainly). Once in a very great while you’ll actually use your Innocent Devils in a Metroidvania-ish fashion to find something that isn’t terribly useful. I’m tempted to rent it and finish it, simply to play as Trevor, but I’m not sure it is worth it (I played up until the 2nd Isaac fight).

  26. Ah yes, Circle of the Moon, I remember that game. The only memory I have of it is beating the game and then being gently reminded to never play that ‘lame bastard wannabe’ ever again when I played Symphony of the Night sometime afterwards. Its true. I was high on drugs at the time, but SotN actually told me this. I don’t think it likes CotM because SotN also called it a ‘flaccid prostrate hooker waiting for anyone with $20 to come by and pick it up’. And then SotN told me that it was a playstation black disc and not to play it on my stereo. It was like it could predict the future becuase it, like, totally KNEW I wasn’t going to listen to its warning! Damn Alucard and his discreetly increases height shoes!

  27. I’m pleased to hear that someone else disliked the book as much as I did. “Imitation” is the perfect word– techies and pop culture, woo. What bothered me about it the most is that I had been so hyped for a worthy successor to Microserfs — a reimagining of tech culture post-90s, maybe a little more grown up — and Coupland just fed us these really horrible characters that I couldn’t force myself to give a shit about.

    I mean, can you offer up any description of Bree beyond “slut”? Or John Doe as anything beyond “Strives to be normal”?

    The whole book is one big gimmick. I was hoping for something a little more like Hey Nostradamus, or hell, even Eleanor Rigby– those were fine, and a testament to Coupland’s skill at building believable, likable characters, even if you hated them beforehand (e.g., Reg in HN).

    Guh. At least it has a cool cover.

  28. Actually, I did like CotM. It has some really anoying minus points for things like the drop rate coupled with no store, the battle arena, and the hiding place for some of the cards (special candles?). Besides that, I though the game was pretty good and challenging, something SotN, HoD and AoS are missing.

  29. The final boss music Proof of Blood from CotM is astoundingly good, too bad the soundtrack for the game has an equally astounding level of hiss in it. I’d say they just put a microphone next to a speaker but I would still expect it to turn out better than it did.

  30. “Maybe Coupland is saving his A material for his proposed giant Toronto toboggan hill. He’d better be.”

    At first I thought that said “Giant Totoro toboggan hill” and I got excited. But, nope. Guess I’ll have to keep dreaming.

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